The question no therapist wants to get asked

_DSC6301Somewhere lurking in the depths of the internet is a blog post telling people that if they want to find a good therapist they need to ask “What kind of therapy do you do?”  The question comes in variations: “What’s your style of therapy?”, “How do you conduct therapy?”, and “What’s your theoretical model?”  No therapist likes getting asked this question because it’s both complicated and meaningless at the same time.  It took me two semesters of Graduate school to learn all the different theoretical models of counseling and what they mean.  Trying to explain this stuff to a lay person takes a long time and then I find that in the end they really never wanted to know anyways.

The idea behind asking this question is that the answer will somehow reveal if a therapist is “good” or not.  But how?  The research consistently reveals again and again that all styles of therapy are equally effective.  As a therapist, if I was looking for a therapist for myself, I wouldn’t bother asking that question because I know that it really doesn’t reveal anything about the therapist.  Instead I would be more interested in knowing the number of years they have been doing therapy, looking to see if they have any reviews online, as well as getting a basic feel for the amount of enthusiasm and dedication they have to their craft.  Everything else doesn’t really matter to me.

But just because we therapists don’t see a point in the question doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be prepared to answer it.  When a prospective client asks me this, I respond with a question of my own:

“What kind of therapist are you looking for?”

This is what we really need to be asking prospective clients.  They have something in mind, and we need to find out what it is.  Maybe it’s that they’re looking for a therapist that will be non-judgmental about the mistakes they’ve made in their life.  Perhaps they are looking for a therapist that will really listen to them.  Or maybe they’ve been in search for an engaging therapist that’s going to give them lots of feedback.  Those are the types of things that they really want to know about you, not whether you are a Gestalt therapist or not.

Now if the client still wants to know what type of therapy you do, I would recommend reducing it into terms that anyone can understand.  Use words like:

  • Solutions-focused
  • Skills-based
  • Non-judgmental
  • Active
  • Engaging
  • Short-term
  • Relationship-based
  • Insight-oriented

You get the idea!  Asking the client what they want can also help you determine if they’re the right client for you as well.

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My name is Marina Williams and I am a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Jamaica Plain, MA. This website is my professional website devoted to my activities as a therapist. If you are interested in finding out more about my private practice, please visit my other website


Do you want to make an appointment for counseling or supervision? Interested in having me speak at your event? Have any questions or concerns? Feel free to contact me at 774-240-5550 or